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Short v. Gusman

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 25, 2019

WILLIAM D. SHORT
v.
SHERIFF MARLIN GUSMAN, GARY D. MAYNARD, and DARNLEY R. HODGE, SR.

         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss (Rec. Docs. 37, 38) pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Gary D. Maynard, and Darnley R. Hodge, Sr. Plaintiff, William D. Short, opposes both motions (Rec. Doc. 41). Defendants filed replies (Rec. Docs. 44, 47). Having considered the motions and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motions should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation arises out of Plaintiff's termination from his position with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office for allegedly reporting late to a random drug screening and having his urine test positive for oxycodone, a controlled substance, without having a prescription for the drug. Following his termination on September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant action against Sheriff Marlin Gusman (“Sheriff Gusman”) and former court-appointed Compliance Director Gary D. Maynard (“Maynard”), alleging unlawful termination under the Fourteenth Amendment through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and pursuant to the Louisiana Employee Drug Testing Law. Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief against Sheriff Gusman and the current Compliance Director, Darnley R. Hodge, Sr. (“Hodge”), to reinstate Plaintiff's employment as a captain with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), “the district court is ‘free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case.'” Krim v. pcOrder.com, Inc., 402 F.3d 489, 494 (5th Cir. 2005). The party asserting jurisdiction must carry the burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss. Randall D. Wolcott, M.D., P.A. v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir.2011). The standard of review for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is the same as that for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). United States v. City of New Orleans, No. 02-3618, 2003 WL 22208578, at *1 (E.D. La. Sept. 19, 2003). If a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it should dismiss without prejudice. In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 624 F.3d 201, 209 (5th Cir. 2010).

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (internal citations omitted). The allegations “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).

         “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 561 (5th Cir. 1998)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). The court is not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss.” Taylor, 296 F.3d at 378.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS AND DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the Individual Capacity Claims Against Maynard are Barred by Judicial Immunity

         Maynard and Hodge (collectively “the Compliance Directors”) argue that the claims against Maynard must be dismissed because they are barred by absolute judicial immunity. (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 4). The Compliance Directors assert that at all relevant times, Maynard was the court-appointed Compliance Director for the Orleans Parish Jail and was appointed by Judge Africk to implement a Consent Judgment relating to conditions of confinement. (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 4). They emphasize that the Jones Court's Stipulated Order provides that the Compliance Director is “answerable only to the Court, ” and is “a representative of the Court [rather than] an employee of OPSO.” (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 5). The Compliance Directors contend that the position of Compliance Director is analogous to that of a court-appointed receiver because the Compliance Director possesses all the relevant characteristics and derives his authority entirely from and is answerable only to the Court. (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 6). Thus, the Compliance Directors assert that Maynard is entitled to absolute judicial immunity for actions taken within the scope of his court-granted authority. (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 6). While they acknowledge that the Stipulated Order granted the Compliance Director final authority to terminate the employment of contractors and individual employees who have attained the rank of Captain or higher only for misconduct, failing to satisfy job expectations, financial prudence, operational efficiency, or inhibiting progress toward Consent Judgment Compliance (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 5, 6), they emphasize that Plaintiff's termination from his position as captain for failing a drug screen falls within the scope of the Compliance Director's authority (Rec. Doc. 37-1 at 10, 11).

         Plaintiff argues in opposition that the Compliance Directors are not entitled to absolute judicial immunity because they are not officers of the Jones Court. (Rec. Doc. 41 at 9). Plaintiff avers that the Compliance Directors “are simply what the Stipulated Order expressly says that they are: independent contractors appointed by Sheriff Gusman to administer the Orleans Parish Justice Center per the terms of the parties' negotiated settlement….” (Rec. Doc. 41 at 9-10). Nevertheless, Plaintiff argues that even if the Compliance Directors are “officers” of the Jones Court, they are still not entitled to any form of judicial immunity because Maynard's decision to terminate Plaintiff was administrative, not adjudicative. (Rec. Doc. 41 at 11, 13). In support of this argument, Plaintiff asserts that (1) Maynard was acting not as an objective adjudicator, but as the appointee of Sheriff Gusman and (2) Maynard's decision did not afford Plaintiff any procedural safeguards prior to termination. (Rec. Doc. 41 at 18).

         In reply, the Compliance Directors maintain that they share in the absolute immunity of the Court that appointed the Compliance Director to bring the Orleans Parish Jail into compliance with the Court's judgment. (Rec. Doc. 44 at 4). They first note that the Compliance Director derives his authority entirely from the Court. (Rec. Doc. 44 at 4). They reject Plaintiff's contention that the Stipulated Order is merely a contract whereby Sheriff Gusman delegated some of his authority to the Compliance Director, noting that the Stipulated Order is an order of the Court (not merely an agreement between the parties) and is an exercise of the Court's authority (not a voluntary delegation of Sheriff Gusman's authority). (Rec. Doc. 44 at 4-5). The Compliance Directors also assert that Maynard's termination of Plaintiff was a “judicial” act entitled to absolute immunity because the Compliance Director is the functional equivalent of a receiver and the challenged actions arise out of and directly concern the litigation before the court. (Rec. Doc. 44 at 6-8).

         The position of Compliance Director was created by a Stipulated Order of the Court in order to bring the Orleans Justice Center into compliance with a prior Consent Judgment entered in the case. Jones et al. v. Gusman, Civil Action No. 12-859, Ecf. No. 1082 (E.D. La. June 2013). The Consent Judgment emerged from a class action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish Prison initiated by prisoners in April 2012. The district court judge approved a Consent Judgment requiring Sheriff Gusman to implement “systemic and durable reforms to address pervasive and longstanding problems at the jail.” Id. In April 2016, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking that the Court appoint a receiver to carry out the remedies specified in the Consent Judgment. Jones et al. v. Gusman, Civil Action No. 12-859, Ecf. No. 1009. After evidentiary proceedings, all parties and the Court signed a Stipulated Order. See Ecf. No. 1082. The Stipulated Order vests the Compliance Director with “final authority to operate” the Orleans Justice Center and all jail facilities. Id. The Stipulated Order also provides that the Compliance Director is “answerable only to the Court.” Id. at 3.

         The Supreme Court has clearly articulated that the question of absolute judicial immunity necessitates a functional approach. Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 223 (1988). This approach requires examination of the “nature of the functions with which a particular official or class of officials has been lawfully entrusted.” Id. Further, a court must “evaluate the effect that exposure to particular forms of liability would likely have on the appropriate exercise” of such functions. See id. “Court appointed receivers act as arms of the court and are entitled to share the appointing judge's absolute immunity provided that the challenged actions are taken in good faith and within the scope of the authority granted to the receiver.” Davis v. Bayless, 70 F.3d 367, 373 (5th Cir. 1995).

         Courts in the Eastern and Middle Districts of Louisiana have previously dismissed suits against the Compliance Director on the basis of judicial immunity. See Crawford v. Gusman, No. CV 17-13397, 2018 WL 3773407, at *2 (E.D. La. Aug. 9, 2018) (holding that the Compliance Director is a court-appointed receiver who is entitled to derivative judicial immunity); Crittindon v. Gusman, No. CV 17-512, Ecf. No. 78 (M.D. La) (finding that the Compliance Director was “essentially analogous to a court-appointed receiver, ” and “the law provides as a matter of law for immunity as a quasi-judicial officer”).

         In the present case, the Court concludes that the record supports a finding that the Compliance Director is a court-appointed receiver who is entitled to derivative judicial immunity from Plaintiff's federal and state law claims. The Compliance Director is a position that was both created and funded by the Court and charged with implementing the substantive measures detailed in the Court's Consent Judgment. Plaintiff attempts to argue that the Compliance Director is not entitled to judicial immunity because the decision to terminate Plaintiff was administrative. However, Plaintiff has produced no facts to suggest that the challenged action was not taken in good faith, nor has he shown that his termination was outside the scope of the Compliance Director's authority. Specifically, the Stipulated Order gave the Compliance Director the final authority to discipline and terminate employees who had attained the rank of Captain or higher for misconduct, failing to satisfy job expectations, financial prudence, operational efficiency, or inhibiting progress toward Consent Judgment compliance. See Jones, Ecf. No. 1082 at 12. There is no dispute that Plaintiff's drug screen tested positive for oxycodone and he was unable to produce a prescription. The record reflects that it was squarely ...


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